Secrets of the Legacy Years, 1984 – 1991

The history of the official Yamato Fan Club, Part 2

At right: a page from the fan club magazine promoting a charity auction in late 1983. The hottest item was definitely the gigantic Yamato cutaway model, two of which were made for the 1980 Be Forever promotional campaign. See more photos of this model here.

If one were to track the history of Yoshinobu Nishizaki and his post-Yamato pursuits solely through Japan’s mainstream media, it wouldn’t look like much of a story. A few blips on the radar around the various anniversaries, occasional retrospectives on anime history, maybe something about a video release. The general impression would be of a once-busy mogul fading into obscurity.

But scanning the pages of the Yamato fan club magazines from 1983 onward reveals a different, much more interesting story.

Odin. Dessler’s War. Yamato Resurrection. These were just a few highlights from an ongoing career that was both ambitious and under-reported. But the Yamato fan club was there through thick and thin, maintaining its operations all the way through summer 1991. Had they gone further, they would have been at the nerve center of Yamato 2520, giving us an unbroken line through the entire span between Yamato productions. Nevertheless, issues 36 to 83 of the fan club magazine provide a unique and privileged view into a stretch of Yamato history that almost entirely escaped notice elsewhere.

These issues provided the only known documentation of fan club meetings and perennial trips to the Cannes Film Festival. They also signaled the founding of JAVN (Japan Audio Visual Network), Nishizaki’s foray into the world of film and video distribution. It was much like the work of the former Academy Studio, which brokered foreign distribution of Japanese films in the early 1970s, but would now give West Cape Corporation the ability to produce and distribute its own works. (In addition, JAVN also handled the import of foreign films into Japan. One such film was The Russia House, starring Sean Connery.)

Mail-order products continued to be offered, though stocks obviously dwindled as time went on. On the other hand, it was the one reliable source for a quick spate of Odin merchandise released in 1985. There was even some attention given to Star Blazers, probably the only such coverage in Japan.

But the most interesting stories were all about new animated projects. Some made it over the finish line, others did not.

After Yamato

From the very beginning of this stretch, a far-reaching plan for the future was laid out: three new anime productions that would make West Cape Corporation a force to be reckoned with throughout the 1980s: Starship, Dessler’s War, and Yamato Part 2 Birth (hereafter referred to as Resurrection).

Starship would eventually be titled Photon Sailor Starlight and then renamed Odin. As the first new project to go forward, it was the hot topic from October 1983 through August 1985, the month of its release in movie theatres. For most of us, that’s the whole story. But readers of the club magazine would soon learn that the goals for Odin had been far more ambitious.

Starting in 1984, fan club meetings became a bi-annual occurrence, taking place in January and again in August. Nishizaki would kick off each one-day event with a speech to the attendees and a brief Q&A session before turning it over to film screenings and other activities.

It was at the January 1986 meeting that he spoke very candidly about what Odin should have been, and why even he was disappointed in it…

Last summer I released a movie called Odin that, quite frankly, was a failure.

Counting Odin in with all the Yamato movies, it was five wins and one loss out of six races. Like the commander of a defeated army, I haven’t spoken to anyone about the failure of Odin, but in the four months since it closed I can think of two or three regrets.

The initial idea was to make 12 one-hour episodes to be shown over the course of a year on NHK. [Japan’s PBS] Anime episodes on TV are all 30-minute programs, so it seemed like it could be made on a small budget. It had been a long time since I made a TV series.

After making Final Yamato, there were two projects I wanted to make for television. The first was a music program featuring the music of Yamato played as a 4-movement symphony by the top-notch NHK orchestra. [Editor’s note: this became the Yamato Grand Symphony, broadcast in 1984.]

The other project was going to be a TV series in the standard 30-minute commercial format. It would be broadcast on NHK, and the 2-or-3 episode climax would be shown in an hour-long block. This lead to the idea of an hour-long episode shown once a month at 9pm Sunday.

We started production, but the plan was canceled in midstream. Odin probably should have stopped right there. It was supposed to be a 12-hour long epic, which is why the movie version seems unfinished as it is.

I think that is very regrettable. The story ends with the discovery of a computer brain instead of going on to the larger-scale drama, which was to find Asgard. We had to fit what we had into a running time of two and a half hours, so the story was sped up and there were things we couldn’t explain because of the cuts that were made.

That’s a big failure for a movie.

When we made the first Yamato series, the production got very complex. Three drawings turned into 4 and then 5, and a really detailed drawing would take an entire day. It took just as much time to draw the spaceship Starlight, so the production got more and more behind schedule. That’s the second point of regret.

It’s sufficient to say that Odin should have been a much bigger story. Like Yamato, I think it conveyed the idea of young people on a grand voyage, but we never got to see them make sacrifices to save the Earth.

Those are my three points of regret with Odin.

On the other hand, I think it opened some new roads in terms of combining music and images. We used the sound of computer-controlled synthesizers and also the hard-rock band Loudness, and used a lot of new lighting techniques for the animation. I was very happy with those points, and I learned a lot from it.

Image technology will keep advancing, and the developments of video and computer graphics will be very good for animation. We producers always have to try new things and absorb as much as we can. Making Odin reaffirmed this in my heart. That’s what allowed me to overcome my regrets.

And so I decided to make Yamato once again. And before that, a video work called Dessler’s War.

(end of excerpt)

This was not actually news at the time. This intriguing idea had been floated as early as spring 1984 with these words:

About Dessler’s War

As the title implies, this is a story about Emperor Dessler, the anti-hero of Yamato. Like Odin, this will be a space opera. The official title is Dessler’s War I: Battleship Starsha, and it grows out of Yamato.

In TV series 1, Dessler attacked Earth and was shown as the villain, but over the course of the saga his popularity increased, finding a certain kinship with Kodai in Farewell and Series 2, then becoming an ally in The New Voyage. But it is not to be taken for granted, as indicated by the tension shown in Series 3. The qualities and leadership of Dessler earned great approval from fans and made him the favorite character for some.

The idea of a story with Dessler as the protagonist came before Yamato finished, and is now part of a 3-year plan for Dessler’s War. Though it comes out of the world of Yamato, it is a completely separate side story. It starts with the last scenes of Final Yamato. Captain Okita and Yamato have stopped the Aquarius flood and are about to sink. Kodai, Yuki, and the rest of the crew wave farewell and quietly return to Earth.

However, Dessler gazes out into the sea of space that has swallowed up Yamato. He saved Yamato by intercepting Lugal, and is unable to forget what he has witnessed. It is the only time he saw Captain Okita in person, and with Final Yamato they know each other for the first time. When he goes to recover Okita’s body from the bridge of Yamato, Dessler sees in him a great human being.

As everyone knows, Dessler built the Galman-Gamilas Empire in Series 3 but it was lost in a sudden catastrophe in Final Yamato. Dessler now has to face the future, as Okita would. What happens next? That is the theme of Dessler’s War.

And as if that weren’t enough, this announcement came in the very next issue of the club magazine:

Toward the 2nd Yamato

Dessler’s War will tie Final Yamato together with Yamato Resurrection. The new relationship of Dessler, the Galman-Gamilas Empire, and Battleship Starsha will form the new world of Yamato. Of course, Earth will be part of the story, too. Kodai, Sanada, and later members of the crew will take part. But their roles in the new story will not be announced now.

Fan letters tell us many things they want to see, such as the married life of Kodai and Yuki. How this story will be connected to Yamato Resurrection is likely to become the focus of interest from now on.

Hurry Up and Wait

So what happened? Luckily, various articles published throughout the 1980s allow us to track the evolution of these concepts as far as possible. They remain the only published documentation, slightly augmented by brief footage in the Quickening documentary from 1994. In the links section at the end of this page you will find an article that traces that evolution in detail, but for now we’ll cut to the end of line and see where it all went.

The following is part of a message from Nishizaki, published in fan club magazine 62, December 1987:

Four and a half years have passed since the release of Final Yamato. I’ve thought of various forms for the new story to take, trying to convey the flow of human blood throughout history. I wrote several synopses, but they all sounded like imitators of the old Yamato.

For example, while trying to write Dessler’s War as a progressive story, I found that I could not separate it from the conventions of Yamato. I’ve talked about it in many meetings and restarted the story plan many times, but in the end it does not come together.

However, when I read a synopsis by writer Souji Yoshikawa, it reversed my thinking. His concept resonated with me very much; it was to break completely with the old Yamato and create something entirely new that would inherit the sensibilities of the predecessor, including the human drama.

Although I still want to revise some details, this synopsis solved my biggest problem of how to handle the old Yamato while also establishing a new one. At present, we are developing this story plan.

The next problem is how to design the lead battleship and constitute the world in which it exists. Needless to say, animation is basically a world of pictures. The previous Yamato was built upon the classic design of the original battleship. As the new story goes forward, the design of the new Yamato must advance with it.

I will go to America in mid-February [1988] to engage the services of a world-famous designer. New Space Battleship Yamato will launch soon. Please look forward to it!

Most of you already know who that designer was (Syd Mead), and what his work would lead to (Yamato 2520). The first photos of the New Yamato appeared in the June 1988 issue that documented a meeting of key personnel, including Mr. Mead and Leiji Matsumoto. Nishizaki’s message in October 1989 took things even farther.

From issue 73, October 1989:

It’s been a busy, bewildering year, but everyone knows that this December will mark the 12th year of the fan club’s existence and we all want to thank every single one of you.

We also greet the 17th anniversary of Yamato, which was born in 1974. Someone who was born with Yamato is now 17 years old, and one who was 17 at the time is now 34. Enough time has passed for a boy to reach the age where they can now go to work making more Yamato.

Everyone knows I will be an executive producer, but now Mr. Yamaki has become a producer and wants to do the remake of Series 1. Even though Yamato is a symbol of the sensibilities and tradition of Japan, its new character will advance toward the next generation.

Yamato and I belong to an earlier generation, and I am very glad to make it all over again for the next. A producer must take care to choose a staff of excellence.

Plans for 1990: Yamato Remake and Yamato Live

It is expected that manga artist Yasuyuki Kunitomo will participate in the character design of the new Yamato animation, so everyone can anticipate a strong move forward. More about this will be said by the producer, Mr. Yamaki. As the executive producer, I watch these developments as a teacher watches over his students.

We also have to consider the concerns of those who grew up with Yamato, and create a product that speaks to them.

In an earlier issue of the fan club magazine, I believe we introduced a new Yamato design by Mr. Syd Mead, the American artist who developed Blade Runner and 2010. Along those lines, we expect to cooperate with America to make a live-action film.

Talks are proceeding, and Actor Sean Connery of CAA is being discussed as a candidate. We hope to make a production announcement in the fall. This would be a live-action production, not animation, which would have enormous production expense and it will be necessary to gather a highly-skilled staff.

If the battleship designed by Mr. Mead appears in a live action movie born on an international stage, and Space Battleship Yamato launches again as a domestic animated movie, then two new Yamatos will be made.

By all means, I would like everyone to see both versions.

All Good Things…

From all appearances, the future of Space Battleship Yamato circa 1989 looked very bright indeed. This, unfortunately, is where events become very difficult to follow. What is known, however, is that after a densely-packed two-year period of successful video releases through Bandai/Emotion, Nishizaki’s JAVN company declared bankruptcy in 1991. Bandai continued to maintain their Yamato video license after that, but the debts racked up by JAVN were substantial and must have had a ripple effect on other projects.

This marked the exact date of the club magazine’s final issue, June 1991, in which Nishizaki took the time to pen this still-hopeful farewell message:

The closing of the fan club

I think the recent news from our fan club headquarters may have surprised you. To me it is a regrettable thing. Though I established JAVN to invest in and distribute videos overseas with West Cape Corporation as a film production company, it was not possible despite all my earnest work

I wanted to create the opportunity to make New Yamato and establish myself as an international producer. If I still have the chance to make it, I hope it is worthy of a fan club so that we can formally resume our activity. The exact timing of resumption will be decided after we produce Dessler’s War next year. Thereafter, the production schedule for New Space Battleship Yamato will be formally established. At that stage, we will consider restarting the fan club.

Naturally, we will be sure to contact our members then. Please inform West Cape Corporation if you change your address.

In addition, I want to thank the entire staff of the fan club headquarters for their fine work. I think I speak for everyone when I offer my gratitude to them. I will be happy to see them again when the fan club reopens.

As we know from the perspective of the 21st century, nothing worked out quite as Nishizaki described above. Neither Dessler’s War nor the live-action remake went into production (incidentally, there was no connection between this concept and Disney’s plan for a live-action Star Blazers film). Instead, New Yamato became Yamato 2520, which ran into its own difficulties in 1996 and was prematurely cancelled. Yamato Resurrection got as far as conceptual designs that appeared in the Quickening documentary, which were then shelved for over a decade before finally being resurrected in 2008. (Prior to that, as readers of this website know, they served as inspiration for the Star Blazers Rebirth webcomic.)

Despite all the uncertainty that must have hung over his head at the time, Nishizaki’s first loyalty was still to the fan club that had supported and cheered him on for a total of 14 years. His farewell message concluded thusly:

We will not spare our support and cooperation if you wish to continue your activities in independent fan clubs. Our replies may be slow, but you can still communicate with us using the West Cape address. Groups formed voluntarily embody the true meaning of ‘fan club.’ Originally, the fan club headquarters did not fulfill this meaning, since I started it myself.

Between the first TV series and the release of the movie, 400-500 fan clubs had already formed before I noticed them. Since then, many other professional companies have started make-believe fan clubs, but Yamato clubs started on their own.

I first noticed that clubs could spontaneously form around the time I made Triton of the Sea. When I later learned that Space Battleship Yamato had inspired several hundred to form nationwide, it gave me great pride as a producer and will remain one of the greatest memories of my life.

If our next work gets you excited again and you want to support it, we would like to reopen. We’ll meet again at that time. For our long relationship, I thank you deeply.

-Yoshinobu Nishizaki

The last word on the closing of the club came as a group message from the staff, and since it requires no further elaboration, it will also serve as the close of this article:

14 years have passed since the Yamato fan club was founded. In the time since then, the fans have always been supportive of us and of Yamato. We always felt your strong passion and your love and hope for Yamato on its many voyages. There will be a little time before the fan club headquarters can be reborn. As long as we have you and Yamato, the fan club is immortal. We have learned much from our work and we will never forget the strength and enthusiasm of your support.

-Everyone at the Yamato fan club headquarters.

The End

Click on these links to read related articles:

Fan Club magazine index part 2

Dessler’s War development history

Star Blazers coverage in the fan club magazine

Yamato Resurrection anime development in 1994

The rise and fall of Yamato 2520

Continue to our next Nishizaki article:

2008 interviews from Playboy and Otonafami magazines

Above: this gold foil foldout card, released in 1984, was presented to fans who kept their membership active for one year. Silver foil stickers were then sent at the 3 and 5 year point as a keepsake.

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